[OPE-L:545] Re: Order of enquiry and critique

akliman@acl.nyit.edu (akliman@acl.nyit.edu)
Wed, 22 Nov 1995 12:44:11 -0800

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Andrew here, responding to Paul Zarembka's post about beginning the reading/
teaching/study of _Capital_ with Ch. 1 or not.

First, for a group like ope-l, all of the members of which have presumably
read and re-read _Capital_ many times, I wouldn't necessarily say that one
(we) must begin with Ch. 1. We are engaged in a more specific project, one
which presumes that we've already read _Capital_. So although I think we're
doing well by starting from the start, I am agnostic about the need to do so.

It was different with Stalin and Althusser. In 1943, an unpublished article in
_Pod Znamenem Marxisma_, entiled (if I remember) "On the Teaching of Political
Economy in the USSR" opined that the teaching of _Capital_ should not begin
with Ch. 1 because that violates the "historical principle." (Sorry, not
an *unpublished* article, I meant an *unsigned* article. The authors seem to
have been Leontiev and others, and it was generally understood that Stalin had
set the line for the article, since it revised official doctrine in a big way.
The article was translated into English by Raya Dunayevskaya and appeared in
the _AER_ sometime in 1944, followed by her critique. In the next year, much
discussion of the article appeared in the _AER_, with pieces from Lange, Baran
, Rogin, and others.) Very importantly, although the article was ostensibly
only about teachning methods, its main argument--and its key revision of
official doctrine--was that the law of value holds under socialism. So what
the Stalinists were doing was to try to eternalize the law of value, and put
this over by appeal to the "historical principle" of historical materialism.
In other words, portray the different forms and "stages" of society as
various ways in which the same law of value appears, thereby making the law
of value into something technical only and stripping it of its specifically
capitalist character. What this move also did was to shift focus away from
the capitalist forms of economic relations--commodity, value, money as
measure of value, duality of abstract/concrete labor, etc.--onto the continuity
between capitalism and earlier modes of exploitation, and onto the
magnitude of exploitation as against the *peculiar character* of human
realtionships under capitalism.

We are all familiar with this, because it became official doctrine and the way
political economy was taught. One can, for instance, see the influence of
this doctrine and approach on Mandel's _Marxist Economic Theory_.

So the order to revise the way _Capital_ was taught was integral to this
project, basically an apologia for Russian state-capitalism and a denial of
its capitalist character, despite the operation of the law of value, the
existence of gerneralized commodity production, the division between abstract
and concrete labor, etc. (The authors basically acknowledged that all this
existed, and tried to make doctrine conform with reality.) Evidently, it
was clear to them then that Marx's interrogation of the *meaning* of the
initial categories would be very embarrasing, if not potentially
revolutionary, since the text is filled with such goodies as: the formulas
that value is determined by labor-time and the magnitude of the value of the
product is determined by the amount of labor-time expended "bear the
stamp of belonging to a social formation in which the process of production
has mastery over man, instead of the opposite," with the opposite having been
spelled out in the immediately preceding paragraph as "production by FREELY
associated men, which stands under their conscious and planned control" (my
emphasis; quotes as remembered, from pp. 173-75 of Vintage/Penguin ed., if
I'm not mistaken).

Decades later, Althusser was especially concerned to circumvent the theory of
commodity-as-fetish, since he recognized its Hegelian, "non-scientific" and
"non-materialist" character. I'm sure Paul has a better understanding of
Althusser's complaints than I, so I hope he corrects me if I get it wrong, but
it seems to me that Althusser's problem with the doctrine of fetishism was
similar to Colletti's--the critique of capitalist social relations by an
appeal to something beyond those relations (a notion of human freedom, mastery
of "man" over the process of production). This is what allowed Marx to say
that the categories of bourgeois economics were BOTH "socially valid" AND
"absurd"--again this is from the fetishism section of Ch. 1. So he
"recommended" that the teaching of _Capital_ begin (if I remember) with Part 2.
This was a recommendation "to the workers" that they skip the first part, and
a recommendation that Althusser said he regarded as "imperative." He attached
so much importance to it that the piece talking about this was published in
the daily press, L'humanite', if I remember.

So, I find it very hard to talk about this issue in the abstract--the desire
to change the order of teaching/reading _Capital_ is a political-theoretical-
ideological act, which expresses grave misgivings, if not outright disagreement
or even trepidation, about what Marx actually wrote and thought. What is
involved is a desire to claim the mantle of Marx's Marxism while at the
same time departing from it. It facilitates confusion and disorientation
as to what Marx actually wrote and thought. This is the *minimal*
condemnation I can make--you can guess at the maximum.

And then there's the obvious stuff--Marx labored through the Grundrisse until
he realized he should have begun with the category "Commodity," he wrote and
rewrote the first chapter, especially, for the 2d German and French eds., he
considered the work an "artistic whole," he claimed that the understanding of
the dual character of labor was one of the 2 best points of the book, and the
one needed for a clear comprehesion of political economy--given all of that,
who are we to mess with the structure of the book? Now, it's not the
Bible, and I'm not "religious" about it (actually the religious like to
lift quotes as convenient), so I grant that in principle we could know the
work so well to say that its "real" structure is different from what Marx
thought, but the history of interpretation of _Capital_ makes me extremely
skeptical about this, to say the very least.

As Marx put it to Engels, the dialectical method has the advantage of setting
traps for jackasses.

I agree with Jerry that Thanksgiving usually sucks, but it's something we
gotta do to whitewash genocide against Native Americans, so I'll be off the
net until Monday, too.

Ciao--Andrew Kliman